EU to press Putin on Syria at summit

President Putin greets Jose Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy in St Petersburg President Putin, left, will hold talks with Jose Manuel Barroso, centre, and Herman Van Rompuy

EU officials are expected to press Russian President Vladimir Putin to take a stronger line on the crisis in Syria during a summit in St Petersburg.

EU member states want Russia to put pressure on its ally to withdraw heavy weapons from cities and comply fully with UN envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan.

Russia and China are also resisting US and European calls to condemn President Bashar al-Assad and seek his removal.

On Sunday, Mr Assad denied his forces had any role in the Houla massacre.

In a televised address, President Assad told parliament the killing of more than 108 people in their homes, including 49 children, was an "ugly crime" that even "monsters" would not carry out.

Witnesses have blamed pro-government militiamen for the massacre, which has triggered international condemnation and led to several countries expelling Syrian diplomats in protest.

Mr Assad said the only way to resolve the crisis was through political dialogue, and that "foreign meddling" was to blame for Syria's divisions.

Start Quote

Russia's role is crucial for the success of Annan's plan”

End Quote Catherine Ashton EU foreign policy chief

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton are among those attending Monday's summit.

On Sunday, Mr Putin invited the EU leaders for dinner ahead of the talks at a lavish estate on the outskirts of the city.

European diplomats regard the meeting as a chance to renew ties with Mr Putin since his return to the presidency earlier this month.

The leaders are also expected to discuss trade and Iran's controversial nuclear programme. Russia will also be looking to speed up moves towards visa free travel in Europe.

But correspondents say Syria is likely to dominate the agenda.

Political transition

"We need to make sure that Russia is using fully its leverage in convincing the [Assad] regime to implement [the peace plan]," an EU official quoted by the Reuters news agency said.

"The Russian side has certainly not been very helpful in finding solutions in terms of a political way out."

President Bashar al-Assad addresses parliament in Damascus President Assad blamed outside forces for causing divisions in his country

Moscow insists it is not protecting Mr Assad but says his removal cannot be a precondition for political dialogue.

Baroness Ashton, who met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov before Sunday's dinner, said in a statement: "Russia's role is crucial for the success of Annan's plan."

She said the EU wanted to "work closely with Russia to find a way to end the violence".

The statement added that Baroness Ashton had spoken to Mr Annan by telephone on Sunday and they had agreed that the crisis was at "a critical point".

Analysts say pressure is growing on Moscow to concede that the initiative is stalled and to promote a compromise in which President Assad stands down to allow a transition of power.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Sunday that she had "made it very clear" to Mr Lavrov in a telephone conversation that the focus was shifting to a political transition.

"Assad's departure does not have to be a precondition, but it should be an outcome so the people of Syria have a chance to express themselves," she said during a visit to Stockholm.

The BBC's Steven Rosenberg in Moscow says that although the summit is not expected to produce any major breakthrough in relations between Russia and the EU, it is still important.

EU leaders will be able to reacquaint themselves with Vladimir Putin and it is also a chance to gauge what kind of relationship Moscow and Brussels are likely to have during his six-year presidency, our correspondent adds.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    44. sjov 18 MINUTES AGO 38.krokodil; Putin will take little notice of such "minnows" why should he?

    I have the same view of them. Take Cathy.... Never elected by actual people. Yet she is where she is now. And we laugh at Vlads democratic credentials.

    The EU does not talk for me. It's an undemocratic sham.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    Von Rompuy may be a complete imbecile, but a much harder line is needed for Putin, whose ego and feeling of self importance seem to prevent him for changing his mind and doing what is the 'right thing'. I'd love to speak to Russians about this, after the election contraversy and BBC documentary, its clear theres much antipathy towards him, but letting Syria slide into all out civil war is too far.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    Hope the EU’s ‘pressing’ is of road-roller calibre making him see there’s a world outside of Russia that will not put up with his veto nonsense that’s killing people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    Before the next big push, you would have to get rid of Iran's supporter on your flank.

    This is why Iraq, Libya and the Arab Spring happened and why Syria is under such pressure now.

    The west is Desperate.

    War is the only real money spinner left and in their view, China is getting too big for it's boots.

    We, the ordinary folk, can look forward to decades more of this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    46. WhyMe44

    I am aware that Israel controls the US via senate and other spheres of power in congress, but you will be surprised at that the CIA and other super secret agencies can do overseas. Assad's claim that this massacre was carried out by external forces could be true. It is upto you your imagination who these forces are. The CIA is responsible for massacres in Angola, via RSA terrorists.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    Von Rompuy's own Country is verging on the precipice of a 'civil war' and he thinks himself qualified to interfere in Syria's problems?
    The man is a total imbecile.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    The West will not sort out problems if they do not benefit their own economic interests. Recent US drone strikes in Pakistan and Israeli air-raids in Gaza show this clearly. It is in the West's interest to have a weakened Syria alongside a weakened Iraq and a strong Israel. The Chinese Communists are not targeted like the Cuban ones because of their economic power. Money is everything to the West.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    Hard not to think of what's going on in Syria in the most cynical terms.
    Regime change? How used to that expression we've become. Almost to the point where we forget the UN expressly forbids it as a motive for military action.
    This is a civil matter & for the Syrians to sort out. Unless you think the world would be better with pliant puppet govts everywhere.
    Are Russia really the bad guys here?

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    Syria's internal affairs are for the Syrians to solve free of foreign interference and Saudi and European meddling. I thought we were fighting Islamic extremism and not aiding and arming AlQaeda in the Levant against state actors. We are skirting with the biggest man initiated and started human disaster ever cooked up since WWII.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Re #27

    He was correct about Iraq.

    As an ex intelligence officer I'm guessing he is also correct about Syria.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    Russia and China are against the US, which is obvious. The EC should avoid themselves to get involved in this global power game and should only put their focus and efforts to recover their economy. The EC should not be used by the US as an "outsourced weapons" to deal with international conflicts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    When did world leaders find their hearts?!

    How can a NATO air strike that killed a wedding party of 60 INCLUDING CHILDREN be "regrettable" & the killing of children in Syria be "horrendous"?

    What kind of judgement goes on there, that determines which child's life has greater worth.....a strategic one perhaps ?

    There is more to the projected story here! Like Gadaffi switching his $ for GOLD umm

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Is Putin or the Russians going to listen to a failing continent that cannot even solve their financial problems. The Russians wont even listen to the US so its highly unlikely that the EU can waver politicians in Russia who have vested interest in Syria and the Iranians.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    32. JP Cota says:
    "... The US are nothing but warmongers who live and thrive on wars...."

    Maybe, but it's not the US people who want these wars. It's Israel who steers US foreign policy via the AEI.

    Check out

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.


    Same could be said for Abdelhakim Belhadj, founder of the LIFG and former "terrorist" (as proclaimed by many western countries). Now he is a dignitary within the NTC, as the mediator between NTC politicians and the remaining paramilitary. Because of his good deeds in Libya, he has been let off the hook? Despite his links with known Jihadist organizations?

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    38.krokodil; Putin will take little notice of such "minnows" why should he? No one else appears to recognise their autocratic status apart from "grovelling" career politicians such as Schultz etc.
    The legitimacy of their position is more suspect than Putin's and even Assad's.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Mr. Putin is protecting bashar Assad, and sharing the killing against Syrians!!??

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Assad doesn't strike you as a mad murderous despot like Gaddaffi or Saddam Hussein.
    He strikes you as being a pawn in the battle for power in and out of Syria.
    Something not in doubt is that there are some truly evil and cowardly forces operating within Syria.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Now we know how frustrated the rest of the world is when the USA, often alone, refuses to condemn Israel, again and again. It's impossible to understand how we can keep a straight face when we scold Russia for doing exactly what we do. Diplomacy sometimes is all about finesse. But in the last century, it's been mostly about shamelessness.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    And Russia might tell them to stop propping up Israel which has been ignoring UN resolutions to stop stealing Palestinian land, abusing the imprisoned poulations, depriving them of building rights while paying Israeli settlers to build houses all around them, diverting their water, rounding up their young men and holding them for years without charge or trial, shooting unarmed protestors etc etc.


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